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Frank MacNaghten

Theatre Entrepreneur and Impresario

By David Garratt

An advertisement for the Frank Macnaghten Vaudeville Circuit - From the ERA, 1st of January 1910.

Above - An advertisement for the Frank Macnaghten Vaudeville Circuit - From the ERA, 1st of January 1910.

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Francis William MacNaghten was born in India in 1870. He was educated in England at Haileybury, a Public school. He was related to General MacNaghten and also Deighton Probyn, once Keeper of the Privy Purse. After he finished his schooling he returned to India where he worked on his Uncle's Indigo Plantation. However, when a recession hit this industry, he returned to England and settled in Northampton in 1895. He became associated with the running of the Empire Music Hall, which stood at the corner of Goldsmith Street and Horseshoe Street, which had been established in 1872 as Higgetts Alhambra, being attached to a pub. After a while he left the Empire with two associates Fred Baugh and Sidney Arthur and decided to look at the Grand Music Hall at West Bar, Sheffield which in 1896 was vacant, with a view to branching out on his own as a theatrical entrepreneur. This Hall was previously known as 'The Bijou' and also 'The Star Music Hall,' and like Northampton's Empire Music Hall was attached to licensed premises, in Snig Hill. Frank liked the look of this vacant Theatre and took procession installing Fred Baugh as house manager and Sidney Arthur as booker. It reopened in 1896 on twice nightly business.

The Palace Theatre, Attercliffe, Sheffield - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society From this beginning, Frank embarked on building another Music Hall in Attercliffe, Sheffield, and with £10,000 capital embarked on building 'The Attercliffe Alhambra.' Designed by A. Bloomfield Jackson in Moorish style and holding 1,600 people. It was not an immediate success but as time went by it did improve somewhat. However, Frank decided to sell it in 1907 to T. Allan Edwards of Derby, who changed the name to 'The Palace.'

Right - The Palace Theatre, Attercliffe, Sheffield - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society

In 1898 Frank formed a company to take over several of Mr Darbey's Theatres, namely the Peoples Theatre in Sheffield, the Theatre Royal Rotherham, the New Theatre Royal in Chesterfield, and the Queen's Theatre Keighley. The new company was named North of England Theatres Corporation. Frank also took over the King's Theatre in Nottingham which had formerly been named the Gaiety Palace Music Hall.

In the same year he also had an agreement with the Livermore brothers to take over Bradford's People's Theatre which was previously known as the Star Music Hall. This Theatre was unusual in that it was beneath Bradford's Princess Theatre being named the People's Theatre in 1894.

He took over the Oddfellows Hall in Halifax in 1900 renaming it the Halifax People's Palace. In Blackburn he opened the Blackburn Palace on the 10th of September 1900.

In 1901 he added the Lincoln Empire which was renamed the Lincoln Palace. This Theatre was bombed in 1943. He added the Gaiety Palace Nottingham and the Prince of Wales Theatre, Leicester, which was renamed the Tivoli Theatre in 1904, and then renamed yet again to the Pavilion Theatre (demolished in 1929 for a road widening scheme).

1902 saw the Leeds Theatre Royal added to his chain.

The Auditorium and Stage of Foresters Music Hall - From an article by Ronald Mayes printed in a programme for 'Dirty Work' at the Aldwych Theatre in 1932.Then he moved into taking over London Halls by adding the Foresters Music Hall in Cambridge Road Mile End, the old Surrey Theatre in Blackfriars, and Sadler's Wells Theatre, plus the Eastern Empire Theatre in Bow which was renamed the Bow Palace. This prompted him to form a new company to run his London Halls named the Music Hall Proprietary Corporation.

Left - The Auditorium and Stage of Foresters Music Hall - From an article by Ronald Mayes printed in a programme for 'Dirty Work' at the Aldwych Theatre in 1932.

In 1903 he added the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton, and built the Halifax Palace Theatre costing £40,000.

In 1904 he added two more Halls, the old Gaiety, West Hartlepool which he renamed the West Harlepool Palace, and the Palace Theatre, Grimsby which he opened on the 12th December 1904.

A Battersea Palace Music Hall Programme whilst under the ownership of The Macnaghten Vaudeville Circuit - Courtesy Peter Charlton.1905/6 saw him add the Bath Pavilion which he renamed the Bath Palace Theatre; Gordon's Palace of Varieties in Southampton; and the Grand Theatre, Cardiff, renaming it the Cardiff Palace Theatre.

In 1907 he added the Palace / Hippodrome, Warrington opening on the 23rd October 1907 and the Palace / Hippodrome, Burnley opened on 2nd December 1907.

1908 saw him add the Battersea Empire Theatre in York Road Battersea, this had originally been the Magpie old song Tavern, known in 1875 as the Battersea Music Hall, and by 1885 as the Washington Music Hall. In 1900 this was known as the Battersea Empire, and finally in 1908 as the Battersea Palace.

Right - A Battersea Palace Music Hall Programme whilst under the ownership of The Macnaghten Vaudeville Circuit - Courtesy Peter Charlton.

At Whitsun in 1908 he added the Pier Pavilion in Southport.

In 1909 he added the Huddersfield Palace and the Carlisle Palace Theatres.

In 1911 he added the Gordon Theatre, Stoke on Trent, the Grand Theatre, Stalybridge and changed the names of both these Theatres to Hippodromes.

These were the boom years of building his Empire. He continued to run these Theatres but by the First World War, there began a decline, together with the growth of Cinemas. In fact some of his Theatres changed their use to becoming Cinemas. The Second World War also took its toll on his chain and gradually it declined until by 1957 the circuit's last three cinemas at Blackburn, Carlisle and Warrington closed down, leaving just the Halifax Palace which closed in 1959.

The circuit was then wound up by its Chairman Mr K. C. Meneer, thus ending the MacNachten era.

This article was kindly researched and written for this site in December 2020 by David Garratt.

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